James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834 Lowell, Massachusetts – London 1903
The Sisters 1894/95
transfer lithograph with scraping, printed on ivory laid Japan paper; sheet 234 x 290 mm (9 1/4 x 11 3/8 inches)
signed in pencil with the butterfly at lower right
Way 71; Spink/Stratis/Tedeschi 109 second (final) state
Kennedy Galleries, New York (their stock nos. in pencil on the verso twice a37149 and a91584)
Pace Prints, New York
Robert H. Getscher, The Stamp of Whistler, exhibition catalogue, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1977–78, no. 9
A very fine impression in excellent, untreated condition; the sheet retains its deckled edges at right and below.
The print was first exhibited at The Fine Art Society in 1895–96. It was never titled by Whistler himself, but in all likelihood it shows Beatrix Whistler (Whistler’s wife, known as “Trixie”) and her sister, Ethel Birnie Philip, in the drawing room of the Whistlers’ Paris home at 110, rue du Bac. The artist had received the first proof impressions from his London printers, Thomas and Thomas Robert Way, in October of 1894 but was not satisfied with the results. The authors of the catalogue raisonné of the artist’s lithographs write that “Whistler did eventually make numerous small corrections to the image … either when he and Trixie visited London between December 1894 and March 1895 … or when he returned to England for good in September 1895.” They further note that “when the artist’s estate was inventoried in 1903, forty-six impressions of The Sisters were found, more than half of them signed. … Whistler seems to have withdrawn the image from circulation and sale, possibly because of its painful association with his wife’s illness” (Spink/Stratis/Tedeschi, vol. 1, p. 340).
Beatrix is seen reclining in her chair; she was soon to be diagnosed with cancer of which she died in May of 1896 at the age of 38. The composition is dominated by the dark dresses of the two women. The details of the interior are only hinted at with the most delicate touch of the crayon. The personal tragedy surrounding the scene is only obliquely referenced in this lithograph. The print does, however, evoke a slightly haunting stillness.